The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Mother should abandon the smoke screen with her daughter

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

On undoing a lie you’ve told to your child:

Consider the smoking mom [who lied to her child about smoking]: How about ’fess up AND quit?

Sit the daughter down, say she has something important to talk with her about, and then come clean. Something like . . . “Remember when you asked if I smoke? Well, I lied to you about it. It was my cigarettes you smelled. I’m very sorry for lying. It was the wrong thing to do. I was afraid that if you knew, you might be more likely to take up the habit yourself, and I don’t want that for you. It’s so, so hard to quit. I don’t want you to have to go through that. But I was wrong to lie about it. I hope you’ll forgive me that and be supportive while I do my best to quit again.”

And then give quitting her darnedest. And let the daughter see the struggle. And if she falls off the horse, let the daughter see that, too. If she doesn’t succeed in quitting on the first try — or the fifth, or 15th — at the very least the daughter will see what a powerful hold smoking can have on a person, and that in itself might be a valuable cautionary tale in making her own choices as she grows up.

People often hold up the example of smokers telling their kids not to smoke as the height of hypocrisy. It’s not. What’s hypocritical about being in the grip of a difficult addiction and not wanting your kid to go through that? Every human being has their struggles, and what parent wouldn’t do what they could to try to help their kid steer around a kind of struggle they know up close?

Bonus: This confession also serves as a model for How to ’Fess Up After the Fact. We all hope our children learn to confess their mistakes the first time, but, come on, we’ve all covered our tracks and perpetuated lies at some point in a moment of fear. This is a way to show that when upon reflection you decide you’ve done something wrong, you can summon your courage and put the brakes on it.

And if the mom doesn’t want to quit, that can be part of the talk, too. Confess to the lie and explain that this is something she is willing to accept about herself and a risk she is willing to take because quitting is too hard and she’s just not up for it at this point.

It’s okay to not quit and to tell the daughter why. But it’s NOT okay to lie. She’s not protecting the daughter at all; she’s teaching the daughter to mistrust her own perception of a situation — and that’s arguably the most dangerous consequence here.

Owning It Is Not the Same as Condoning It

On taking criticism (or weathering rudeness):

Some very effective responses to almost any confrontation, (because they disarm):

“Oh?”; “I see”; “Glad you told me that”; “Really?”; “Never knew that”; “I’ll have to think about that”; “That could be”; “Good luck”; “I can live with that”; “Sure.” And, for an especially hostile one, “Would you mind repeating that?”


Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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